“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
Let’s see, is that a quote from Psalm 95, referring back to the time when the Israelites murmured and complained, in spite of the fact that God had miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt? Or is it from the New Testament book of Hebrews, quoting from Psalm 95, as a challenge to Christians a few decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection? Yes and Yes. You might want to check out these two passages to see how accurately and directly Hebrews 3:7-11 quotes Psalm 95:7-11.
The author of Hebrews was preaching a sermon to the people of his day, using a text from Jewish Temple worship, Psalm 95. In it he focuses on the word “Today,” mentioning it four times (in verses 7, 13, 15 and 4:7). He takes the words of this five-hundred year old psalm and applies them directly to the people under his spiritual guidance: “Today, if you hear his voice right now, don’t harden your heart!” “Today!” “Today!” “Today!” You can just about see his finger pointing as the word echoes in the meeting place where they were gathered for worship. The people of that small congregation would go from their meeting into a world of harsh persecution, where their faith would be repeatedly tested. The preacher was reminding them that only Today’s faith would carry them through. They had to be revived and renewed continually.
Time travel back to the era when Psalm 95 was written. It was most likely during the exciting time of return for many Jews after generations of captivity in Babylon. The Temple was rebuilt under Ezra’s leadership in 516 BC, after laying in ruins for over 70 years. Psalm 95 was one of the hymns that became part of the renewed Temple worship service. In it the psalmist said to the people: “Today, listen to the Lord and follow him. Don’t reminisce about the glory days of Israel’s kingdom in the past. Don’t dream of how wonderful it can be in the future. Today, Today is what counts.”
Climb back into the time machine and go even farther back, to the event centuries earlier that Psalm 95 talks about. The most dramatic moment of Israel’s history, the awesome Exodus from slavery in Egypt, has just occurred. God has promised that he will care for them as he leads them into their own new Land. This was the Today of their faith relationship with the God of their salvation. How did they respond? Not with thanksgiving, but with murmuring and complaining. Their failure to embrace God’s love and grace Today cost them another forty years of wilderness wandering.
Fast forward to us in our Today. Listen! Do you hear God’s voice? “Well, I used to. I had a dramatic conversion experience when I was twenty-three.” No, no; that’s yesterday’s faith. “You’re right; I’ve been meaning to get more serious about my spiritual life. Next week I’ll . . .” Doesn’t count; that’s tomorrow’s faith. Today! Do you hear God calling? Answer him, right now! If you push him away, you may find your life seeming a lot like wandering in the wilderness.
— Pastor George Van Alstine